Wrestling has often been described as a soap opera and while the characters typically settle their problems by beating each other senseless inside a ring rather than pulling off a well-timed plot twist, sometimes their storylines can reflect that. Looking over the past 30+ years of WWE programming, you’ll find torrid affairs, illegitimate children, long lost evil siblings and shocking double crosses that blindsided fans and wrestlers alike. And while the same can be said for General Hospital or Days of Our Lives, unlike those soaps, when the WWE crosses a line, they cross that line hard, creating some wholly uncomfortable moments in the process.
While the WWE has often looked to the world of soaps for storyline inspiration, their desire to push boundaries and create shocking television has created several wrestling moments that went so far, they nearly turned fans off of the product for good. From offensive and insensitive storylines that mocked marginalized groups of people, to explicit content that would not fly in today’s PG era, to storylines that were just so ridiculous, they were hard to take seriously. This was especially true in the Attitude Era, a time where the WWE tried to push the envelope so far, it was hard to tell where the envelope even was anymore.
Who could forget the time that Mae Young gave birth to a human hand? Or when Brian Pillman’s widow was interviewed on live television less than 24 hours after his real-life death? The following list examines 15 times the WWE made audiences so uncomfortable, they almost made us stop watching entirely.
15. The Katie Vick Angle
When WWE historians look back on the fall of the Attitude Era (and Ruthless Aggression era) and the reemergence of the wrestling promotion’s PG ways, this is the moment that will be credited for changing the tide. Back in 2002, Triple H and Kane began feuding over a “secret” that Triple H had on him. That secret was revealed to be that in his teens, Kane got into a car accident after leaving a party that killed the passenger, his then-girlfriend Katie Vick. Triple H would accuse Kane of forcing himself on her, implying that he wasn’t her boyfriend but an obsessed stalker who killed her cause he couldn’t have her.
This all culminated in what may be the worst moment in WWE history, with Triple H introducing footage of Vick’s funeral. In the video, The Cerebral Assassin can be seen posing as Kane, sneaking into Vick’s coffin and simulating necrophilia. Suffice to say, the segment had parents (and most of us for that matter) up in arms and the feud was dropped shortly afterwards with Shawn Michaels helping Kane defeat Triple H in a casket match on Raw.
14. Piggy James
The key to any good wrestling promo, is basing it on something real, which is probably why so many wrestling fans were turned off by the Piggy James angle. Back in 2009, Mickie James was put in a feud with Michelle McCool and Layla (collectively known as LayCool), beginning one of the most humiliating women’s wrestling storylines the company has ever produced. Instead of feuding over a championship or their wrestling prowess, LayCool decided to target James’s body image, regularly calling her fat and coining the name “Piggy James.” Aside from the obvious fact that James wasn’t fat, the storyline became increasingly more uncomfortable as the duo continued to up the ante in body shaming James, coming to the ring wearing pig noses and stuffing cake in James’s face, many segments ending with James appearing to cry real tears.
It was all so degrading that fans began to speculate that James was being punished by the WWE, seen as the only logical explanation as to why their top female performer was being regularly humiliated so mercilessly. James has since spoken out about the angle, admitting that while it hurt her feelings, she does think it was the company’s way of addressing bullying which had become a hot button issue in America at the time. The fact that she lost her title back to McCool weeks after winning it however, probably derailed any catharsis that storyline could have produced.
13. Paige Mocks Reid Flair’s Death
The WWE has a long history of mining storylines out of real-life tragedies, however, the feud between Paige and Charlotte Flair was perhaps one of the most tasteless. The feud centered around the idea that Paige was tired of the hype surrounding Charlotte since her call-up to the main roster, feeling she only got to where she was because of her family name. However, during a contract signing six days before their match at Survivor Series, things took a dark turn. During the segment, Charlotte declared that she would fight just like everyone in her family has, including her younger brother Reid who died of an accidental drug overdose in 2013. “That’s where you’re wrong sweetheart,” Paige countered, “Cause your little baby brother, didn’t have much fight in him, did he?”
The line was almost instantly decried by the WWE community and to make matters worse, the WWE reportedly didn’t ask permission from the Flair family to use it either. Elizabeth Fliehr, mother to Charlotte and Reid, took to Twitter shortly afterwards to call the segment, disgusting, disrespectful, cruel and lazy. Labels that are hard to disagree with.
12. Billy and Chuck’s Wedding
The WWE doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to representing the gay community. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find one gay character in WWE programming that wasn’t either exploited or used for comedy. The criticism has gotten so bad that Stephanie McMahon had to explain in a speech at a diversity and inclusion event in 2016, that WWE would be working to include more LGBT characters in their storytelling, which have yet to be seen. However, one of the biggest blights on the WWE’s history has got to be the characters of Billy and Chuck. Known separately as Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo, Billy and Chuck’s gimmick was their ambiguous sexuality, often playing up the idea that they were closer than your average tag team for the “comedic” benefit of grossing out their straight alpha male opponents.
The angle culminated in the WWE’s first gay wedding, however, instead of saying “I do,” the two revealed that it was all a publicity stunt that had gone too far and that they were in fact straight. The angle not just upset audiences but GLAAD as well who had been working with the WWE on the storyline under the false pretense that Billy and Chuck were actually going to be portrayed as a gay couple.
11. Mae Young Gives Birth To A Hand
There are moments in wrestling that make you uncomfortable because they’re in poor taste and then there are moments that make you uncomfortable because of how off-the-wall crazy they are. This one belongs in the latter. In 2000, after returning to the WWE to make numerous appearances alongside her friend and fellow legend, The Fabulous Moolah, Mae Young began an on-screen romantic relationship with Mark Henry. The 77 year-old would eventually announce that she was pregnant and the angle would culminate in what has to be the craziest moment in WWE history as Young was filmed giving birth to an adult-sized human hand. Young would pass away in 2014 at the age of 90, however, it’s a moment that she will long be remembered for, whether you consider it a high or low-point for WWE creative.
10. DX Goes Too Far In Imitating The Nation
Racism and wrestling have sadly always seemed to go hand-in-hand. From the early days of the “Golden Era” all the way to Triple H’s “people like you don’t get to be world champion,” promo, the WWE has rarely succeeded in representing non-white performers. However, if you’re looking for one of their lowest moments regarding race, look no further than the time D-Generation X dressed in blackface. It went like this; in 1998, just as the WWE was on the cusp of achieving major mainstream success, their most popular faction ignited a war with The Nation of Domination. DX were a bunch of lewd, foul-mouthed party animals known for making fun of anybody and everybody (basically wrestling’s answer to a ’90s shock jock) while The Nation of Domination was a faction of mostly African-American wrestlers, loosely inspired by the Black Panther Party who vowed to fight for the marginalized non-white talent on the roster. So of course, DX did what they did best, they made fun of them.
Walking to the ring, dressed like the members of The Nation, blackface included, they lampooned its members (The Rock, D’Lo Brown, Mark Henry and Kama Mustafa), an act that’s tasteless enough on its own but becomes even more-so when you consider DX were supposed the good guys in all this. That’s right, the non-white wrestlers fighting for the same opportunities as their white peers, were booked as the heels. An act that still to this day, doesn’t feel right.
9. Val Venis Gets Chopped
The Attitude Era was known for pushing boundaries but this is one envelope that was probably fine exactly where it was. In 1998, Val Venis, a supposed adult film actor who spent more time talking about his, ahem, equipment than he did winning championships, was embattled in a feud with a stereotypical Japanese samurai stable known as Kaientai. The feud stemmed from the fact that Venis had slept with the wife of manager, Yamaguchi-san, prompting the group to seek a brutal form of payback on the Big Valbowski.
During one episode, Venis was abducted by the group, stripped of his clothes and tied up with his hands over his head, while a samurai sword wielding Yamaguchi-san promised Venis that he would “choppy choppy your pee pee.” Of course, because it was the 90s, Venis was inevitably saved by John Wayne Bobbitt, who undoubtedly informed him of the bullet he just dodged. If only we were so lucky.
8. Big Boss Man Tricks Al Snow Into Eating His Dog
This next entry wasn’t so much offensive as it was cruel. When Al Snow and Big Boss Man began feuding in 1999, Snow’s valet wasn’t a hype-man or femme fatale, but his beloved chihuahua, Pepper, a dog who would become more pivotal to this feud than anyone could have imagined. After kidnapping Pepper on an episode of SmackDown, Boss Man would invite Snow over to his hotel room to hash things out and return his dog to him, just not in the way Snow probably had in mind. In a segment that likely had dog lovers reaching for a barf bag, Big Boss Man would feed Snow a meal under the guise of having a mature conversation and talking out their differences. However, it wasn’t until after Snow had finished that Boss Man would reveal to him he had just unwittingly devoured his own dog.
The horrific betrayal would build to the two facing off in the first and only Kennel From Hell match, a match almost universally derided by fans and critics alike so really, nothing good came from any of this.
7. Race Relations Starring Randy Orton And Jinder Mahal
There was a time when the “All American Hero vs. The Foreigner” trope was a staple in pro wrestling storytelling. It gave us unforgettable feuds like Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant, The Iron Sheik vs Sgt. Slaughter, or Nikita Koloff vs. Magnum T.A. However, there are certain things that should just be left in the past. Despite today’s awareness of how damaging those stereotypes can be, especially in our current political environment, the WWE still regularly employs the idea that foreigners are bad in several of its recent feuds.
Perhaps the best example of just how dated his device is however, is the recent feud between Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal. Billed as India’s last great hope for a WWE Champion, Mahal regularly waxes poetic about his frustrations over the lack of opportunities for people of color in the WWE and the constant profiling that his people face. Of course, this made him the bad guy. Things only get more problematic when you add in “babyface” Randy Orton’s seemingly anti-immigrant promos which led to one doozy of a line. No matter how you slice it, hearing your quote-unquote good guy tell an Indian man he’s going to “Kick [his] a** back to India,” is going to make a few people cringe.
6. Snitsky Causes A Miscarriage To Lita’s Baby
This is not only one of the most drawn-out storylines on the list, but also one of the most depressing. During what had to be a low-point in Lita’s career, the Hall of Famer had to endure a seemingly never-ending barrage of abuse during a storyline in which she was enslaved by Kane. It all started when the Big Red Monster became obsessed with the Team Extreme member, regularly stalking her and beating up her boyfriend Matt Hardy on a weekly-basis. Lita would eventually agree to give in to Kane on the condition he leave Hardy alone. Kane agreed to but there was one final (repulsive) caveat; Lita would have to sleep with him against her will or he would put her boyfriend in the hospital. If that sounds dangerously close to rape to you, it’s because it is.
The storyline didn’t end there though; Lita would also be forced to marry Kane after becoming pregnant with his child, leading to weeks of him holding her captive to ensure she didn’t terminate the unwanted pregnancy. While this probably sounds really heavy, don’t worry, it ends with Lita suffering a miscarriage in the middle of the ring after becoming collateral damage to a savage chair shot directed at Kane, at the hands of the impossibly evil Snitsky. Snitsky would go on to celebrate having killed her unborn child by bringing a baby doll to the ring and punting it across the arena but honestly by then, we were just glad it was over.
5. Custody Papers On A Ladder Match
When Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio found themselves on the same roster again in the WWE, one of their biggest career goals was to reignite their classic feud in the sports entertainment giant. The two had put on a number of world class matches while in WCW and fans were eager to see what they’d do with an even bigger platform. What they ended up getting was a custody papers on a ladder match. You see, instead of feuding over a title or simple career jealously, the crux of their feud stemmed from the revelation that Mysterio’s son Dominick was actually Guerrero’s biological child, having helped speed up the process when Mysterio and his wife were having trouble conceiving by donating some of his own sperm.
The plot twist lead to weeks of uncomfortable scenes, putting Mysterio’s real-life son in-between them as well as their spouses, building to a custody papers on a pole match, the winner of which, would be awarded custody of Mysterio’s son. Not the person proven to be the biological father, not the person Dominick necessarily wants to be raised by, but the person who can simply get to the papers first. Surprisingly enough, during an interview with Rolling Stone, Mysterio revealed it was actually Guerrero who came up with the idea for the feud but it’s still one that’s best forgotten.
4. Vince McMahon Makes Trish Stratus Bark Like A Dog
While the WWE has experienced a number of lows in the name of being “shocking,” this one may very well be the worst. Back in 2001, long before Trish Status would become a seven-time women’s champion and one of the most beloved women’s wrestlers the company has ever seen, the guarantor of Stratusfaction was caught in a storyline that would have her serve as Vince McMahon’s mistress. Stratus would regularly appear in segments where she would have to graphically make out with her real-life boss, however, things took a turn when McMahon, his daughter Stephanie and William Regal turned on her out of the blue, humiliating her by dunking her head in a dirty mop bucket.
This would lead to one of the most degrading segments the company has ever produced in which McMahon would force Stratus to earn his forgiveness by getting on all fours and barking like a dog. Not satisfied, he would then force her to strip almost completely naked in the middle of the ring. The segment has not only been decried by wrestling fans ever since but it reportedly is partially responsible for Linda McMahon losing her bid for Senate after one of her political opponents referenced the segment as a “war on women.”
3. JBL Goes On Border Patrol
As previously shown, the WWE has always had a tricky time with race. So of course, throw together John Bradshaw Layfield and the United States’ illegal immigrant situation and you’re going to get a cringeworthy segment. It all went down during the buildup to JBL’s match against Eddie Guerrero at Judgement Day in 2004. In an effort to reinforce that Layfield was the heel in the feud, he did the only thing he could do, beat up a family of immigrants of course. In a segment that has eerie relevance to the current political climate, JBL patrols the Mexico-United States border, searching for immigrants trying to sneak into the country.
Layfield can be seen chasing a family back across the border, hurling racial epithets at them as they scream in terror and telling them to “speak English!” ending the segment by screaming after them, “You go back to Mexico and you tell your Mexican friends and your Mexican family that they better stay in Mexico!” While this can be seen as a satire of a certain segment of the American population, the parody would probably be easier to take were it not for Layfield’s real-life reputation.
2. Vince McMahon Says The N-Word
Yes, this happened. The CEO of a major international company uttered one of the most offensive words known to man on national television and to make matters worse, it was pre-planned. At Survivor Series in 2005, John Cena was world champion and well on his way to becoming one of the company’s biggest stars. At the time, Cena was playing a white rapper character who was basically wrestling’s answer to Vanilla Ice, dubbing himself the “Doctor of Thuganomics.”
In a backstage segment that served literally no other purpose than to have McMahon offend a great portion of his audience, the WWE boss would approach Cena, asking “What’s good in the hood?” and referring to him as “my…” well, you know the rest. The segment would end with Booker T and his wife Sharmell, mouths agape, Booker’s closing line being, “Tell me, he didn’t just say that?”A WWE rep justified the segment by calling it, “An outlandish and satirical skit involving fictional characters.”
1. Brian Pillman/Stone Cold Steve Austin Home Invasion
On November 4th, 1996, the WWE aired one of their most controversial angles to date, almost getting Monday Night Raw thrown off the air in the process. The segment was a publicity stunt meant to shock audiences and kickstart what would be known as the Attitude Era but it almost backfired in a major way. The moment featured Stone Cold Steve Austin and Brian Pillman, two of the WWE’s greatest performers and even greater enemies. In the storyline, Pillman was stuck at home, having injured his ankle in a match, so the Rattlesnake decided to bring the fight to him. With cameras running live, Austin would proceed to break into Pillman’s home while him and his wife waited for him, Pillman with a gun in hand.
The feed would end with all out chaos, Pillman pointing the gun at Austin before cutting out, returning only to show the two brawling in the ruins of his home, Pillman with the gun still in hand. The reaction from fans was intense, the acting so authentic that many viewers actually thought the segment was real. Interestingly enough, the angle was supposed to be even more controversial, as Pillman’s wife was scripted to get hurt during the home invasion, prompting her husband to fire two shots at Austin before the feeds cut. The publicity would spark a new attitude change in the promotion that would lead to some of the WWE’s greatest work to date. But still, that segment came extremely close to being the end of it all.
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